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Locating the homeless: Citizenship, advocacy, and the limits of narrative

Shannon Payne, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This dissertation investigates contemporary narratives of homelessness in the United States after the McKinney Act of 1987, the first federal acknowledgement of homelessness and the proposed solution to it. Since 1987, narratives of homelessness usually do one of two things, and sometimes both. They identify and describe significant difference in the homeless (they are animals or other-worldly), or, a narrative will recommend a homeless person to the reading audience in order to show likeness or sameness. Both narrative strategies explore and speak back to current cultural readings of homelessness, and help to show how and why solutions to managing the problem of homelessness have failed. The issues presented in these narratives are pressing, and resound on local and global levels. In extreme cases, the homeless can be read as, and treated as, mere animals or human surplus. My project touches upon some of these ethical and practical questions regarding the homeless, and imagines a more complex ground from which to read literary figures of the homeless; it is no longer enough to speak in terms of "romanticized" and "realist" representations when sentiment, embodiment, species, and place are dynamic concerns.

Subject Area

American studies

Recommended Citation

Payne, Shannon, "Locating the homeless: Citizenship, advocacy, and the limits of narrative" (2008). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3336962.